EvoPsych and Scientific Racism

I’m not a fan of EvoPsych. It manages the feat of misunderstanding both evolution and psychology, its researchers are prone to wild misrepresentation of fields they clearly don’t understand, and it has all the trappings of a pseudo-science. Nonetheless, I’ve always thought they had enough sense to avoid promoting scientific racism, at least openly.

[CONTENT WARNING: Some of them don’t.]

[Read more…]

Social Justice Is Core To Atheism/Skepticism

As Jordan Peterson’s become more and more influential, there’s been an uptick in the number of people writing about him. The most astute analysis I’ve seen yet comes in podcast form via CANADALAND, but a recent blog post by PZ Myers directed me to Peter Coffin’s excellent contribution as well as Shiv’s ongoing coverage.

I see a common thread to it all, though. Coffin in particular points out just how poor Peterson is at coming to the point. That twigged a memory; forgive this copy-paste from The Skeptic’s Dictionary, but the entire text is important.

Shotgunning: Shotgunning is a cold reading trick used by pseudo-psychics and false mediums. To convince one’s mark that one is truly in touch with the other world, one provides a large quantity of information, some of which is bound to seem appropriate. Shotgunning relies on subjective validation and selective thinking.

Peterson is using a fairly old trick: blast out as many points as you can, and hope that a few of them stick. It doesn’t matter if some or even most of them fail, because people will cling to the handful that resonate with them. As an added bonus, shotgunning adds cognitive load to anyone hoping to critique you. If you want to make your critique solid, you need to grasp the entire argument and hold it in memory, which is nearly impossible when it’s a small fraction of a wandering, wide-ranging rant. Coffin needed to piece together small segments of three separate interviews to illuminate one of Peterson’s beliefs, for instance, making it easy to toss out the “out-of-context” card. Some reviews of Peterson’s latest book back up Coffin’s observation, though.

the reader discovers that each of Peterson’s 12 rules is explained in an essay delivered in a baroque style that combines pull-your-socks-up scolding with footnoted references to academic papers and Blavatskyesque metaphysical flights. He likes to capitalise the word “Being” and also to talk about “fundamental, biological and non-arbitrary emergent truth”. Within a page, we are told that “expedience is cowardly, and shallow, and wrong” and “meaning is what emerges beautifully and profoundly like a newly formed rosebud opening itself out of nothingness into the light of sun and God”. The effect is bizarre, like being shouted at by a rugby coach in a sarong. […]

What makes this book so irritating is Peterson’s failure to follow many of the rules he sets out with such sententiousness. He does not “assume that the person he is listening to might know something he doesn’t”. He is far from “precise in his speech”, allowing his own foundational concepts (like “being” and “chaos”) to slide around until they lose any clear meaning. He is happy to dish out a stern injunction against straw-manning, but his “Postmodernists” and Marxists are the flimsiest of scarecrows, so his chest-thumping intellectual victories seem hollow.

Peterson has a knack for penning sentences that sound like deep wisdom at first glance but vanish into puffs of pseudo-profundity if you give them more than a second’s thought. Consider these: “Our eyes are always pointing at things we are interested in approaching, or investigating, or looking at, or having”; “In Paradise, everyone speaks the truth. That is what makes it Paradise.” It is no defence to say there are truths here clumsily expressed: rule 10 is “Be precise in your speech”.

  1. The content does not justify the length of the book. When you strip away the pseudo-profundity and verbosity, you’re left with rather simple ideas you could find in any self-help book or discover on your own. Rule # 1, for instance, essentially states that females prefer males with confidence and that success breeds confidence and further success. This is rather obvious without having to understand the evolutionary history of lobsters.
  2. The introduction of the book presents the author as an objective investigator of the truth, disillusioned by dogmatic ideology and prepared to demonstrate its dangers. He then proceeds to incessantly quote from the bible, perhaps the most dogmatic text ever written. I didn’t purchase the book to be preached at, and found it unexpected and highly obnoxious.I understand that the author is interested in story and “archetypes,” but the bible is quoted out of proportion. There are many ancient stories to choose from, each with endless interpretive possibilities, but the bible is, for some reason, the primary text. Now I’m sure this is fine with many people, but I was unpleasantly surprised that I had purchased a book on biblical criticism or theology.

The latter review brings up another good point: Peterson’s morality is fundamentalist Christian and heavily influenced by the Christian Bible. He’s recently denied believing in their god, during an interview about his book which obsessively quotes from their Holy Writ. Less than a year ago, he was arguing in apocalyptic tones that everyone is secretly Christian.

… and that brings me to the last line which is that “so that we can all stumble forward to the Kingdom of God” Why would I put it that way? The reason I put it that way is because, well first of all, everybody does really know what that means, even though they may not believe in it, but that doesn’t really matter, being I think that to believe is to act and not to spout a set of statements and it is certainly possible to act as if what you are attempting to do is to bring about the Kingdom of God, and I would say that doing so is something that will radically justify your miserable existence and that’s really what you need, is radical justification for your miserable existence, and because human beings are so powerful, really powerful beyond the limits of our imagination, we have no idea where our ultimate destiny might be, that it’s not clear what our limits are and then if we decided to improve the place, let’s say, and I would say, starting with ourselves, because that is the safest and humblest way to begin, that there’s no telling where we might end up.

And since we’re all fragile and vulnerable creatures, and we’re going to lose everything anyway, we might as well risk everything to obtain the highest possible good, and then that would make the misery that constitutes our life bearable as a consequence of our intrinsic nobility. And there’s nothing in that except the good. And so then why not do it? And so that’s what I would enjoy and encourage, encourage everyone to do because there’s nothing better to do than that and we might as well all do that which there is nothing better than!

You’d think the mix of fundamentalist Christianity and self-help psychobabble would set off alarm bells in atheist and skeptic minds. As PZ points out, though, it isn’t. Even some big names in the movement are falling for Peterson, like Michael Shermer. Sam Harris is more resistant, yet has talked with him twice already and has a third event upcoming (tickets start at $79!). Some of YouTube Atheism is all agog over Peterson, too. This seems paradoxical at first glance.

But there’s a simple calculus at work here: Peterson’s stance against social justice is highly valued by these people, so much so that it doesn’t trigger skepticism or easily swamps those concerns. We see the same thing in evangelical Christians’ support for Donald Trump: he may be highly immoral according to their worldview, but stacking the courts in their favor is so important that they’ll wallpaper over his moral failings. This segment of skeptics and atheists values social justice over skepticism and atheism, albeit as a target of scorn.

If we combine that segment of anti-social-justice skeptics/atheists with the pro- side, however, isn’t that more than half of all atheists and skeptics? And if more than half of us value social justice that highly, isn’t it fair to argue social justice is a core part of the atheist/skeptic movement? Even if my numbers are off, it’s amusing to compare the PZ Myers of 2009 to that of 2017. The Culture Wars have made us all more mindful of social justice, no matter what subculture we belong to, and in the case of atheism/skepticism gradually turned it into a defining issue. You can’t understand our subculture without knowing about the social justice Deep Rift, and that makes social justice critical to understanding us.

I Thought We All Agreed On This One

The UN Population Fund puts it well:

Child marriage is a human rights violation. Despite laws against it, the practice remains widespread, in part because of persistent poverty and gender inequality. In developing countries, one in every four girls is married before reaching age 18. One in nine is married under age 15.

Child marriage threatens girls’ lives and health, and it limits their future prospects. Girls pressed into child marriage often become pregnant while still adolescents, increasing the risk of complications in pregnancy or childbirth. These complications are a leading cause of death among older adolescents in developing countries.

UNICEF is even more forceful:

Marriage before the age of 18 is a fundamental violation of human rights. Many factors interact to place a girl at risk of marriage, including poverty, the perception that marriage will provide ‘protection’, family honour, social norms, customary or religious laws that condone the practice, an inadequate legislative framework and the state of a country’s civil registration system. Child marriage often compromises a girl’s development by resulting in early pregnancy and social isolation, interrupting her schooling, limiting her opportunities for career and vocational advancement and placing her at increased risk of domestic violence. Child marriage also affects boys, but to a lesser degree than girls.

These children are insufficiently developed to vote or drive under the law, yet they can freely consent to a possibly life-long legal partnership? Ridiculous. It’s not hard to find stories of girls who felt like slaves to their husbands, or had to endure years of abuse before they could legally divorce. And the excuses given to protect it defy belief at times.

Last year, 17-year-old Girl Scout Cassandra Levesque campaigned to change the New Hampshire law that allows girls as young as 13 to get married if their parents approve. “My local representative introduced a bill that raised the minimum age to 18. But a couple of male representatives persuaded the others to kill the bill and to prevent it from being discussed again for some years,” she says. “One of them said that a 17-year-old Girl Scout couldn’t have a say in these matters.”

“So they think she’s old enough for marriage, but not old enough to talk about it, says Reiss. “I think that reasoning is terrifying.”

My point exac-

… Wait. “New Hampshire?!”

In 2013, [Sherry] Johnson was working at a barbecue stand in Tallahassee when she told her story to a senator who was one of her regular customers. “She listened to me and decided to do something,” Johnson recalls. “She presented a bill to restrict child marriage in 2014, but it failed. That was because nobody understood the problem at the time. “People thought: this can’t happen in Florida. The minimum marriage age is 18; what’s the problem? But they didn’t know about the loopholes. Between 2001 and 2015, 16,000 children were married in Florida alone. A 40-year-old man can legally marry a five-year-old girl here.”

Child marriage is semi-legal in New Hampshire and Florida? That can’t be right.

In most US states, the minimum age for marriage is 18. However, in every state exceptions to this rule are possible, the most common being when parents approve and a judge gives their consent. In 25 states, there is no minimum marriage age when such an exception is made.

…. What the hell, USA? How could you allow over 200,000 children to get married between 2000 and 2015? How could your judges approve marriages before one party can even consent to sex?! Between this and your poor maternal health outcomes, your unsustainable military spending, your dysfunctional political system, and your growing reputation as a tax haven and money launderer, I have half a mind to invalidate your “developed country” card.

(Thanks to blf for pointing me to this outrage.)

The Nunes Memo

To understand what the memo is talking about, you have to trace back three separate threads.

Carter Page. In 2013, a number of Russian government agents tried to recruit him, via a lucrative deal with Gazprom. In return, Page admits to feeding them documents (which he claims were “basic immaterial information and publicly available research documents”). As luck would have it, at least one of those agents was already under surveillance (which would later lead to a conviction for espionage), so the FBI asked for and got a FISA warrant to ensure Page wasn’t part of a Russian spy network. That would have been scary, as Page was an advisor to then-candidate Donald Trump. These warrants expire every 90 days, and if the government wants them renewed they have to plead their case to a judge in a special court. The warrant against Page was renewed at least four times, by multiple people and multiple judges.

George Papadopoulos. According to the New York Times, “During a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016, George Papadopoulos, a young foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, made a startling revelation to Australia’s top diplomat in Britain: Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton.” By “dirt,” he meant “stolen emails;” a spear-phishing campaign against the DNCC by a Russian government hacking group dubbed “Fancy Bear” succeeded in mid-March 2016, and on April 26th a Russian intelligence agent was teasing Papadopoulos with the emails. When they were released to the public in July 2016, the FBI opened an investigation into Papadopoulos. According to his guilty plea to the Special Investigator, Papadopoulos was bullish on getting Trump to meet Vladimir Putin and kept up his contacts with Russian spies during his time on the Trump campaign. As late as December 4th of 2016, Papadopoulos was publicly calling himself a Trump advisor.

Fusion GPS. In multiple congressional testimonies, Glenn Simpson said that his company was hired by The Washington Free Beacon to dig up dirt on Trump. Fusion GPS’s research found a tonne of it, most notably potential money laundering for Russian oligarchs. Simpson hired Christopher Steele, a former British spy with decades of Russia experience and a solid track record, to investigate the Russian angle. Steele’s work would eventually become “the Trump Dossier” (which may need to be renamed, as I somehow missed a second dossier). Partway through generating the 17 separate memos which would become The Dossier, Trump was crowned the official Republican presidential candidate and the Washington Free Beacon stopped funding it; the Democratic National Committee then picked up the tab. What Steele found had him so terrified that he, with Simpson’s approval, started sharing the information around. The first contact was an FBI agent in Rome; when the FBI themselves seemed oddly disinterested, he went to journalist David Corn and later Senator John McCain. The Dossier’s veracity has improved over time, and the Kremlin may have iced one of Steele’s contacts.

You’ll need a bit more background to fully grok it, but I can sprinkle that in while covering the claims of the memo itself.

[Read more…]

Winning Hearts and Minds

I’ll forgive you if haven’t heard of Ian Danskin, if only because he’s primarily known on YouTube as Innuendo Studios. You know, the person behind “Why Are You So Angry?” and more recently “The Alt-Right Playbook.” The latter project is aimed at sharpening the rhetoric of progressives to better defend against the “playbook” the Alt-Right uses in online arguments. It’s still a work in progress, but recently Danskin tried to jump ahead and compress it all into a single lecture.

[Read more…]

The Gender Inclusivity of Diverse White Privilege Equity

Blame Shiv for this one; she posted about someone at Monsanto inviting Jordan Peterson to talk about GMOs, and it led me down an interesting rabbit hole. For one thing, the event already happened, and it was the farce you were expecting. This, however, caught my eye:

Corrupt universities—and Women’s Studies departments in particular, he says—are responsible for turning students into activists who will one day tear apart the fabric of society. “The world runs on ideas. And the ideas that are in the universities are the ideas that are going to be in the general public in five to ten years. And there’s no shielding yourself from it,” he said.

Peterson also shared a trick for figuring out whether or not a child’s school has been affected by the coming crisis: If a schoolteacher uses any of the five words listed on his display screen—”diversity,” “inclusivity,” “equity,” “white privilege,” or “gender”—then a child has been “exposed.”

What’s Peterson’s solution for all this? “The answer to the ills that our society still obviously suffers from,” he said, is that “people should adopt an ethos of responsibility rather than continually clamoring about their rights, which is something that we’ve been talking about for about four decades too long, as far as I can surmise.”

Four decades puts us back into the 1970’s, when women’s liberation groups were calling to be able to exercise their right to bodily autonomy, to be free from violence, to equal pay for equal work, to equal custody of kids. If Peterson is opposed to that then he’s more radical than most MRAs, who are generally fine with Second Wave feminism. I wonder if he’s a lost son of Phyllis Schlafly.

But more importantly, he appears to be warning us of a crisis coming in 5-10 years, one that invokes those five terms as holy writ. That’s …. well, let’s step through it.

[Read more…]

Are You As Smart As A President?

During his annual physical, Trump petitioned for, and got, a test of his mental abilities. The doc says he got a perfect mark. Let’s set aside that he also makes some questionable claims about Trump’s shape, and accept that part as accurate. The president himself is glowing about the high marks he got.

With North Korea persisting as the major global challenge facing Trump this year, the president cast doubt on whether talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would be useful. In the past he has not ruled out direct talks with Kim. “I’d sit down, but I‘m not sure that sitting down will solve the problem,” he said, noting that past negotiations with the North Koreans by his predecessors had failed to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

He blamed his three immediate predecessors, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, for failing to resolve the crisis and, a day after his doctor gave him a perfect score on a cognitive test, suggested he had the mental acuity to solve it.

“I guess they all realized they were going to have to leave it to a president that scored the highest on tests,” he said.

As luck would have it, the test Trump took has both a work sheet and instructions available online. I recommend you spare a moment for it, but as a teaser I’ll share a few questions.

  • Indicate the right third of the space and give the following instructions: “Draw a clock. Put in all the numbers and set the time to 10 past 11”.
  • The examiner gives the following instructions: “Tell me the date today”. If the subject does not give a complete answer, then prompt accordingly by saying: “Tell me the [year, month, exact date, and day of the week].” Then say: “Now, tell me the name of this place, and which city it is in.”
  • Beginning on the left, point to each figure and say: “Tell me the name of this animal”.
  • The examiner gives the following instructions: “I am going to read you a sentence. Repeat it after me, exactly as I say it [pause]: “I only know that John is the one to help today.” Following the response, say: “Now I am going to read you another sentence. Repeat it after me, exactly as I say it [pause]: “The cat always hid under the couch when dogs were in the room.”

Take the presidential challenge! If you can equal his score, maybe you’re also fit enough to have partial control over the world’s largest military and full control of the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.

[HJH 2018-01-17] In hindsight, I’m a little worried the above comes off as ablest. The Montreal Cognitive Assessment is a legit test, and quite useful for certain things.

It’s a pretty useful tool to quickly assess dementia symptoms, or to assess cognitive functioning after a stroke. A 2007 study in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry found the Montreal Cognitive Assessment correctly detected 94 percent of patients with mild cognitive impairment, performing better than another test of cognitive wherewithal. It’s been shown to be helpful in identifying symptoms in Parkinson’s patients, and in those who have suffered a stroke.

The point is that it’s a really odd thing to boast about. It’s more difficult to own a driver’s license or graduated high school than pass this test. Breaking out the Champaign tells me you either lack enough intelligence to understand what the test is about, or you are so isolated that you think everyone’s beef with you is that you have dementia. It ain’t, I assure you.


Gawd, that line annoys me. I’m sure you’ve heard it or some variation of it: “feminism is a religion,” “feminism destroys science,” “feminism is opposed to science,” and so on. Yet if you take a dip in the social sciences literature, you realise there’s quite a bit of science behind feminist perspectives. While reading up on sexual assault and trauma, for instance, I came across this delightful passage in one paper:

In conjunction with the SES and similar measures, scholars have argued that feminist perspectives have had a profound impact on the sexual assault literature (Adams-Curtis & Forbes, 2004). For example, Brownmiller (1975) emphasized the role of patriarchy and helped shift attention further away from internal pathology to systemic and social issues. Advancements such as the SES and the development of Burt’s (1980) instruments to assess rape-supportive beliefs added weight to feminist perspectives of sexual assault by demonstrating that many men did not label specific sexual encounters against a woman’s will as rape, and even held favorable attitudes toward rape (e.g., Burt, 1980; Malamuth, 1981). Feminist perspectives emphasizing systemic devaluation of women and gender inequality as major contributors to college men’s sexual assault perpetration continue to be widely embraced in the literature.

Feminist perspectives also appear to be a driving force in different approaches to studying men and masculinities in relation to sexual assault perpetration. For instance, our narrative review identified several distinct areas of research, such as general descriptive studies of college sexual assault perpetration rates (e.g., Koss et al., 1987), characteristics of sexual assault perpetration (e.g., Krebs et al., 2007), and key features of sexual assault offenders (e.g., Abbey & McAuslan, 2004). Consistent with previous systematic reviews (e.g., Tharp et al., 2013), findings across each of these domains indicate that, although there are several avenues that may lead a man toward sexual assault perpetration, certain factors are associated with increased risk, such as living in a fraternity (e.g., Murnen & Kohlman, 2007), viewing violent pornography (e.g., Carr & VanDeusen, 2004), using alcohol on dates or believing alcohol increases the chances for sexual access (Abbey, 2011), endorsing violence toward women or accepting rape myths (e.g., Murnen, Wright, & Kaluzny, 2002), engaging in past sexual assault perpetration (e.g., Loh, Gidycz, Lobo, & Luthra, 2005), feeling entitled to sex (e.g., Widman & McNulty, 2010), associating with men who endorse rape-supportive ideologies (Abbey, McAuslan, Zawacki, Clinton, & Buck, 2001; Swartout, 2013), and perceiving that peers endorse rape myths (e.g., Swartout, 2013). In general, investigators emphasized men’s socialization (i.e., masculinities) as a driving force behind each of these risk factors.

McDermott, Ryon C., et al. “College male sexual assault of women and the psychology of men: Past, present, and future directions for research.” Psychology of Men & Masculinity16.4 (2015): 355-366.

That last paragraph is greatly amusing, to me. MRAs love to bring up all the problems men face, but don’t seem to realise that feminists were the first to recognise and study those problems, using frameworks they’d created. Many don’t realise how big a debt they owe. (#notallmen!)